March 2016

Reintroductions

Ospreys are returning to Scotland, manatees are returning to Flordia, monarch butterflies are on the rebound, and otters are thriving again in New Mexico (60 years after their extinction).

Eastern quolls were reintroduced to Australia’s mainland, while a recovery plan for California’s giant garter snake was agreed. Elk have also returned to Denmark.

Following the quiet success of Canada’s rewilded Victoria harbour, there is a new project to rewild San Diego’s Mission Bay. Ecuador has also created a marine sanctuary for sharks.

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Bison were released in the Netherlands, while in America’s Blackfoot Country bison have returned after 140 years exile in Canada (read more on the bison here, here and here). Wild horses have also been successfully reintroduced in Russia.

Brazil’s Amapá State has designated nearly 3/4 of its landmass as protected zones, the Atlantic Rainforest has expanded, the Scottish Highlands will have more trees, and UNESCO have declared its largest biosphere reserve in North America.

For more inspiration, try this presentation on Norway’s rewilding story.

Oceans

This month featured inspiring stories of marine conservation from BelizeSeychelles, Ecuador and Indonesia. In a powerful move, Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs also exploded a notorious illegal fishing vessel.

Mexico’s vaquita porpoise and Taiwan’s humpback dolphin are nearing extinction. Meanwhile, there are loud calls to crackdown on the use of cyanide to capture aquarium fish.

However, threats to marine life don’t come exclusively from fishing – tourism is playing an increasingly hazardous role. Ship noise has been found to be a serious problem for killer whales and dolphins, phone lights a hazard to nesting sea turtles, and authorities are seeking rules for people swimming with Hawaii’s dolphins because they are becoming sleep deprived. This follows from the Argentinian dolphin that was killed by selfies in February.

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Japanese whalers returned from the Antartic with 333 slaughtered whales, the Sea Shepherd reported. While this is utterly devastating, and Japanese whalers deserve fierce condemnation, the post-mortem of the 13 sperm whales that washed up around the UK this month found their stomachs full of plastic.

This comes just two months after a study revealed that humans have produced enough plastic since WWII to coat the Earth entirely in clingfilm. Disposable plastic is as much of a threat to marine ecosystems as Japanese whale poachers.

The Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that the shifting politics of offshore oil drilling offers a chance to #keepitintheground. There are also fierce demands to end offshore fracking.

At the same time, oil rig structures have been found to host some of the planet’s richest ecosystems – reef. Rewilding these skeletons, while halting future offshore oil exploration, could be a powerful symbol of greener politics.

Trees

Trees for Life have been funded to rewild the Scottish Highlands with 50,000 trees. While worth celebrating – in the south of the country the violently anti-tree practice of swaling continues, along with its unscientific support base.

Meanwhile the UK’s residual ancient woodland (2%) remains unprotected, with some of it standing in the way of a new multi-million-pound golf course.

The last of Europe’s primeval forest has been approved for logging, in breach of EU law. These devastating plans can be stopped – just this month authorities abandoned plans to demolish the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Grand Canyon’s Kaibab National Forest.

In South America the Atlantic Rainforest has been expanded, and the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund (GPFG) has dropped 11 companies over deforestation.

Scotland

The Scottish Wildlife Trust have been running a series called 50 for the Future, showcasing ideas such as catchment scale management, a Scottish environment tribunal, rewilding buried rivers and rewilding coastlines. Number one of the series is the need to reduce deer densities in Scotland.

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The mass killing of mountain hares by landowners and gamekeepers caused outrage in Scotland and abroad. The Scottish Wildlife Trust responded with this statement, while Caingorms National Park responded with this statement. Just eight days later Caingorms were forced to comment on to the killing of yet another hen harrier.

Natalie Bennet explained how over-managed grouse moors worsened floods, while scientists at the Journal of Avian Science published a study on the environmental impacts of the grouse industry.

This has culminated in a petition to ban driven grouse shooting, which you can sign here.

Poaching

Despite his success in encouraging shipping companies to shut wildlife trafficking routes, Prince William was heavily criticised for justifying trophy hunting.

His comments come at a time when Pakistan are floating the idea of trophy hunting the near-extinct snow leopard, the Namibian government are actively campaigning against any attempt to ban or restrict hunting, and Africa’s rhinos face extinction within one decade.

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Obama explained that “we face the risk of losing wild elephants during my lifetime”. Meanwhile, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed four US zoos to import eighteen elephants from Swaziland.

Rhino poaching is getting worse, and the global “poaching vortex” is explained brilliantly in this Brookings article. Just this month the ivory trade was exposed in Hawaii, Hong Kong, California and Beijing.

In an act of defiance, and an attempt to lower their value, the Kenya’s president will publicly burn 120 tonnes of ivory.

The EU have meanwhile announced their Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, while plans to demolish the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit were abandoned.

Bears and Wolves

Wolves hunted elk above a Canadian highway, four new wolf packs were recorded in Washington state, and wolves have extended their territories into Berlin and Munich.

Oregon’s wolf population was found to have risen in correlation with a decline in livestock-wolf conflicts. Writing in Science News, Sarah Zielinski explained how killing wolves to protect livestock can backfire, as bigger packs are less opportunistic.

Despite progress in Europe, and in defiance of scientific advice, a wolf delisting bill was passed in the United States, meaning many will be shot.

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Bear hunting is becoming more popular every year in the United States. There are plans to remove protections for Yellowstone’s grizzlies, making them available for hunting sports. Gloria Dickie has put together an informative timeline explaining the historical context of this decision.

Trophy hunting seems to continue in the recently protected Great Bear Rainforest, while black bears continue to be hunted in Florida.

The good news for polar bears is that 120 million acres of their habitat has been reinstated. The bad news is there are moves to remove the ban on importing polar bear “trophies” to the United States.

Cats

South Africa has banned leopard hunts due to uncertainty on numbers (they should also do the same with rhinos). While a troublesome lion escaped again from Karoo this week, research from the University of Glasgow shows that lions are able to live alongside humans without the need for fences.

Ahead of April’s Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, it was announced that all of India’s tigers will soon be DNA profiled, to help convict poachers. Government officials also helped write a paper on providing more protected space for tigers in the Western Ghats.

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Reintroducing the British lynx featured on the BBC, the Independent and Scotland Big Picture this month. Two things that might interest lynx enthusiasts are: the methods for tracking Canadian lynx, and the fact that 1,409 bobcats were killed for their felt in Montana last year. Once returned to the UK, lynx will probably be at risk of poaching.

Talking Points

A study from India found that wild animals can “persists in landscapes with high human and livestock densities” if there are sufficient tiny refuges.

With migratory birds dying while because of city lights, Audubon have been promoting a lights out programme.

The New York Times ran an interesting story on how Invasive Species Aren’t Always Unwanted, while in Australia it was pointed out that rewilding native predators can be a solution to unwanted invasive species.

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According to new research, better livestock management would rein in billions of tons of carbon. A similar study has explained how farming with trees would offset agriculture emissions. These studies come at a time when 275 landowners in Lapland have united to restore their river, and UK landowners are being advised to diversify the uplands.

Environmental groups are opposing a solar power project in Panoche Valley. According to the RSPB, it is possible to create wildlife habitat around solar farms.

In his new book Half-Earth, E O Wilson advocates the rewilding of half our planet. The National Geographic’s Simon Worrall explained how this is not as outlandish an idea as it seems.

British Rivers

There is growing consensus in the UK around the need for natural flood management – from CIWEM, from the RSPB, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and even from Farmers Weekly.

You can read evidence submitted to the flood inquiry here. Rewilding Britain’s evidence is particularly insightful.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Rewilding Britain, Trees for Life and many others have been loudly calling for beaver protection and further reintroduction. Countryfile magazine highlighted a new study showing how beavers boost fish populations. Surveys are finding extremely strong public support, and protections are urgently needed to prevent future slaughters.

DIY Rewilding

In an interview for Rewilding Britain, Chris Packham explained how to rewild your local patch – whether it be garden, park or other nearby piece of land.

Others are exploring ways to rewild their workplace, rewild their roadverges, and rewild their cities. There is cross-party support for tranforming London into a national park city.

The People’s Postcode Lottery helped put together ten tips for rewilding your garden, Defra put together a five step programme for rewilding hedgehogs, and Wild Melbourne showcased a backyard wild frog habitat.

Following an act of explicit de-wilding, a UK property developer received record fines for destroying a bat roost. Despite being banned under EU laws, the UK government has encouraged farmers to sow toxic-coated seeds that kill bees. Please do not plant any.

Community Rewilding

An urban wildlife refuge in New Mexico has received $1 million to connect youth with conservation, while the UK’s environment department have announced ambitious plans to connect children with nature. The University of Stirling has also received £1.1 million to study how humans and wildlife can co-exist successfully.

A few insightful examples of community rewilding come from Kenya, Mexico, and the Snow Leopard Ranges.

For those of you in the UK interesting in getting involved, Rewilding Sussex are hosting Wild Games on April 18 in Brighton.

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